We have a class of curious world travellers at McNear Elementary School. The adventurous sixth graders explored an ancient cave in France while sitting at their desks here in Petaluma. These students "walked" through the cave and learned the meanings behind the ancient paintings via the virtual field trip portal to Lascaux, France. Lascaux is famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings found in a complex of caves in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. The students were in search of the meaning of man's early artwork after studying the time period with teachers Kathleen Bockhold and Amanda Dowdy. The assignment for the middle school explorers was to answer the following question: How can we, acting as museum scientists, teach museum visitors about early man's cave art? The class spent two weeks working on their written reports along with a presentation of dioramas describing the significance of the artwork they included in their individual scenes. Bringing history to life in this way at McNear Elementary has launched a whole new curiosity in these students.

On an adventure a little closer to home are the students at Carpe Diem and Sonoma Mountain High, Petaluma's smaller alternative schools. These teens are going on a schoolwide hike to Tennessee Valley in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area the last week of September. A total of three outdoor education adventures are planned during the first quarter of this school year for more than 50 students in grades 9-12. Teachers will be leading the hike as a team. These schools have a long history of outdoor education activities benefitting their students, and hope to continue to expand on the healthy bodies/healthy minds program according to new principal Greg Stevenson. It seems to be the season for planning outdoor adventures, with several of our local elementary schools prepping for their annual sixth-grade camp trips. These treks are always a highlight of the year before heading into junior high. This year, McKinley Elementary administrators are excited to once again offer this program at their school thanks to an outpouring of community support and successful school fundraising events.

Three elementary teachers from different campuses received a grant to develop and teach curriculum based on the Petaluma River Watershed. Genie Praetzel a third-grade teacher at McDowell, along with Liza Eichert and Gena Richman at Cherry Valley are working together with the goal of teaching students to be watershed stewards and global citizens as they learn our river's role in the ecosystem as well as its importance to the community. According to Praetzel, the river has become a conduit through which these three teachers can teach almost all subjects. Last week, the combined classes met at the library for a special day of learning activities designed to teach concepts about the river and instill an appreciation for our watershed. The day's culminating project was the creation of a public service announcement of this past Saturday's River Clean Up Day. Next month, McDowell's third grade continues the effort, and will be participating in a STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed) project restoration on Tolay Creek.

Valley Vista School is Cool, Just ask the CBS local affiliate KPIX/Channel 5. They were on campus this past Monday interviewing principal Emily Kleinholz and several students as part of the station's Cool Schools campaign highlighting Valley Vista's ongoing reading incentive program. Viking students have achieved 100 percent participation several years in a row, and this year's theme is in full swing with "Reading Around the World." Last year, Kleinholz honored her promise to read in full costume as a reward for reaching their schoolwide reading goal. She even kissed a pig as the story goes — all to support the Valley Vista Vikings' love of reading.

Here are some calendar reminders for the end of the month for parents, students and teachers: Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley and Penngrove Elementary are going on break soon. Both these campuses are on the 45-15 schedule, meaning 45 days in session and 15 days off as traditional year-round schools. Both schools have extended breaks in the summer with a July start date for the annual school year.

Rotary's Lend A Hand Grant program is open until Sept. 30. The local service clubs share a deep history of support to our community.

This program provides mini grants up to $200 to local teachers. Visit http://www.petalumavalleyrotary.org/lendahand.htm for more details.

Petaluma Educational Foundation's annual PEF Impact Grant applications are due Oct. 1. Schools can apply for grants up to $15,000 in support of innovative academic programs.

Applications are available at pefinfo.com.